Americans love the sea—but do they love it enough to work hard to save it, even if it means a more conscientious vacation?
Beaches are the top recreational destination for US adults. According to Statista, 52% of respondents in a survey said that sand, waves, boardwalks and everything that goes with them are their preferred type of vacation.
But the sea is not only a travel and leisure resource. It’s a huge resource for the world, period.
And with June 8th being United Nations World Oceans Day, it’s the perfect time to take stock of our relationship with this bountiful and threatened wonder.
“Revitalizing: Collective Action for the Oceans” is the theme of World Oceans Day 2022, a year framed by the UN Decade of Marine Sciences and the celebration of the United Nations Ocean Conference.
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Why should I care about oceans?
The seven great oceans and seas of the earth are a lifeline. These waters produce at least 50% of the planet’s oxygen; harbor most of the biodiversity on earth; and are the primary source of protein for more than a billion people around the world.
In addition, sea-based industries account for at least 3.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP), a figure that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development predicts will double by 2030.
The ocean is important for its ecology, but it also has cultural and social significance. More than 3 billion people depend on the ocean for their livelihood, and more than 350 million jobs worldwide are linked to the ocean.
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In the past, the ocean’s size and resilience have made it a challenging conservation campaign. However, do not underestimate the importance of this movement.
With 90% of large fish populations depleted and 50% of coral reefs bleached and destroyed by warmer water, we are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished without more urgent action.
Overfishing, harmful commercial fishing practices, an ever-growing microplastic problem and the effects of climate change are taking their toll. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Chemicals Agency, microplastics are fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 millimeters in length. Some break off larger pieces of plastic, others are made as small as the grit intentionally incorporated into sunscreen and toothpaste.
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Can individuals make a difference on World Oceans Day? Yes.
Take a close look at the habits of both your daily water use – which can impact the oceans even if you never set foot on a beach – and your seaside vacations. Even a small change can bring big benefits, and you will be all the better for it. And these tips can help you enjoy a guilt-free trip to the coast.
- Understand your impact. The National Ocean Service, part of NOAA, is a valuable resource on all things ocean. NOAA has a handy chart that outlines consumer behavior and its impact on the oceans.
2. Do not carry unnecessary items with you on the beach to reduce the likelihood of leaving them behind. Bring your own reusable water bottles, food containers, and at least one garbage bag so you don’t leave litter or overload public garbage cans. Avoid wrapping food in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, as these materials can be particularly hazardous to marine life.
While it’s difficult to say exactly how much plastic is in the ocean, scientists estimate that around 8 million tons of plastic entered the oceans in 2010. That’s the weight of nearly 90 aircraft carriers, and the problem continues to grow.
3. Bonfires on the beach can burn both the air and the water. Keep in mind that old fire pits and ash affect water quality but can also be a significant contributor to air pollution. Expanding the lens, however, the science is mixed regarding the ash’s impact on wildlife and plants, with some evidence pointing to a resurgence of tiny marine life through nutrients following Australia’s recent mammoth wildfires. For now, be careful and let the scientists figure it out. Be sure to cover the campfire circle with rocks and cover the ashes with sand to keep them from getting into the water.
4. Throwing cigarettes or their ashes in the sand can leave behind toxins and pollutants. Instead, bring your own ashtray to the beach. In a laboratory study conducted by an anti-smoking non-profit organization, the chemicals leached from a single cigarette butt (soaked in a liter of water for 24 hours) released enough toxins to kill 50% of exposed saltwater and freshwater fish to kill 96 hours.
5. After relaxing, spend 30 minutes doing a deep beach clean and feel the endorphins as you help others. Encourage your friends and family to do the same and cover different areas of the beach for a deep clean. You can even make it a fun activity by attaching a prize to a job well done.
If you want to make a beach clean even more comprehensive, say with some publicity and inviting lots of volunteers, 4Ocean.com has some tips. They emphasize that before you start, you determine what you will do with the recovered garbage. Will it be easy to do? Is the area path-free accessible? Make sure you read local waste disposal guidelines and decide in advance how you will sort and dispose of recovered waste.
6. If you enjoy seafood on a beach vacation, take a moment to think about fish and shellfish. Ask local markets and restaurants where they source their fresh seafood so you can at least be informed and make your purchase decisions with full knowledge of where the dish is coming from. The Marine Conservation Society regularly updates its website with fish to avoid buying or consuming it due to overfishing or other considerations.
In fact, taking more responsibility for sourcing our fish for consumption is one facet of an economic plan proposed by the World Resources Institute to save the oceans.
According to WRI, $2 trillion to $3.7 trillion is being invested globally in four key areas – mangrove habitat conservation and restoration, ICLN offshore wind expansion,
decarbonizing international shipping and increasing the production of sustainably sourced, ocean-based proteins — would generate combined benefits of $10.3 trillion to $26.5 trillion over the next 30 years. This corresponds to a return on investment of 400% to 615%.
7. Ecotourism continues to expand. Consider sharing your beach vacation with professors, scientists, activists, and other tourists who want to make their mark on ocean and beach conservation, albeit with a small tourist footprint.
Several international organizations are targeting the most vulnerable coasts.
Long-established Seacology offers unique ecotourism adventures in the world’s islands, TimeOut reports, where travelers interact with locals and are part of the formula that helps preserve habitats and communities. Seacology guests explore coral reefs from Fiji to Borneo’s rainforests while staying in well-appointed resorts and visiting important cultural sites.
Marine Conservation Philippines is one such organization dedicated to preserving and protecting coastal regions across the country. MCP also operates an environmentally conscious diving program.
For climate-conscious tourism more broadly, Discover Corps has long had a place in purposeful vacations. The company, part of Terra Education and a certified B Corporation, operates with full transparency and has become something of a gold standard for the model, TimeOut says.